Ever wonder what the largest falcon in the world looks like? Hint—you don’t have to guess. New footage from the Arctic sees the rare gyrfalcon inspecting the observing camera, its bright white head tilting to the left and to the right as it takes in the contraption and its surroundings before the viral video cuts off.
According to National Geographic, the gyrfalcon isn’t only the largest in the world, but it’s also one of the fastest. During long flights, the outlet states the large bird—which typically weighs more than 3 pounds and boasts a wingspan of 4 feet or more—can travel at speeds reaching 80 miles per hour. While the falcon’s 80 miles per hour hardly compares to the near-200-mile-per-hour speeds of its cousin the peregrine falcon in a dive bomb, it nevertheless speaks to the predatory bird’s might.
Aside from its size, however, the gyrfalcon is unique for several other reasons. First, it’s the only Arctic raptor that does not migrate ahead of winter. Instead, National Geographic states the beautiful black and white bird stays behind on the icy tundra, seeking out prey in a dark, frigid landscape. And speaking of prey, it’s also able to take down animals that are twice its size.
Travis Booms, a raptor biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game demonstrated immense respect for the predatory birds.
“Any organism that can live in such a hostile environment has my respect,” he said.
Scientists Worried Receding Ice Caps Put the World’s Largest Falcon in Danger
Like many creatures that thrive in the Arctic, the gyrfalcon faces some serious trouble, with melting polar ice caps creating major habitat loss. But unlike other Arctic residents, the gyrfalcon is relatively unable to adapt to warmer climates, the bird biologically created to survive in extreme cold.
Thanks to global warming, the Arctic is warming at more than twice the rate of the rest of the planet. And though these falcons have begun moving farther and farther north as the ice caps retreat, scientists have pointed out that, eventually, the falcons won’t be able to migrate any farther north, threatening their usual habitats.
Fortunately, at least for now, this particular falcon species is stable in population, though scientists worry ongoing climate change could put the birds at risk of endangerment.
Booms said of the gyrfalcons, “The population is stable for now but may possibly be declining. There are some pretty clear threats on the horizon.”
National Geographic states that Booms is part of a long-term study of this particular species of falcon taking place in western Alaska on the Seward Peninsula. This region is currently home to 70 to 80 pairs of nesting gyrfalcons, which is about one-tenth of the state’s population.